Wednesday, March 24, 2004

House Republicans and Democrats gave a generally chilly reception yesterday to President Bush’s proposal to grant temporary visas to an unlimited number of foreign workers.

Rep. John Hostettler, Indiana Republican and chairman of the House Judiciary subcommittee on immigration, border security and claims, told the panel that nearly 12 million American workers in construction, service and other low-wage fields stand to “lose their jobs to recruits from abroad” under such a plan.

Rep. Jeff Flake, Arizona Republican, one of the few members who defended the temporary-worker plan, said that stopping the flow of illegal immigrants was impossible and that building contractors, restaurant owners and other industries need the labor they provide.

Most Republicans at the hearing took the opposing side, however. The Bush plan “opens up every job in America” to competition from low-wage foreigners, said Rep. Lamar Smith, Texas Republican, who added that the result would be to depress wages and displace American workers.

Democratic lawmakers also criticized the Bush proposal, largely for its failure to include a pathway to permanent residency and citizenship for millions of illegal residents. Undocumented immigrants who have been living and working in the United States for years “should have a chance to earn legal status,” said Rep. Linda T. Sanchez, California Democrat.

Analysts at the House subcommittee hearing predicted dire results for American workers, especially those without high school diplomas, if the doors are opened to a massive influx of legal foreign workers.

Especially hurt would be blacks, said Frank L. Morris, former dean of graduate studies at Morgan State University in Baltimore. Speaking for a private group that seeks to reduce immigration, he said evidence already shows that “employers prefer immigrants to African-American workers.”

Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, another group that seeks lower rates of immigration, said the U.S. economy suffers when there is an oversupply of low-wage, low-skilled labor. The apparel industry and agriculture are falling behind in developing advanced mechanization, he said.

One witness defended the concept of legalizing millions of residents already here and opening the door for more newcomers.

“Our present immigration system is broken,” said Muzaffar Chishti, director of the Migration Policy Institute at the New York University law school. He said it would be inhumane and impractical to expel up to 14 million people living in the United States illegally, many with deep roots here.

The president’s plan has stalled on Capitol Hill after a single hearing on the Senate side. A Senate Republican leadership aide said yesterday that no major immigration bill is likely to pass this year.

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